I had recently obtained a copy of "Masterpieces by Ellington," Duke's first foray into the extended-length possibilities of the LP record. I played it often. We didn't notice immediately that the nights when Amanda settled down quickly were also the nights when "Masterpieces" was playing. But once we made the connection, we knew a good thing when we saw it.
Soon, Amanda had her own tape of "Masterpieces". It played every night in her room at bedtime. At first, Carole would rock her, and sing along with Yvonne's vocal on "Mood Indigo" -- if Amanda wasn't already asleep before the vocal began. Later, I would sit beside her crib and pat her back in time with the music, humming along, creating my own improvised solos as a feeble counterpoint to Hodges, et. al.
Amanda grew and began the long process of becoming a person. And "Mood Indigo" remained "her music," part of the nightly bedtime ritual. Once, when she was about three, I was playing an anthology album of various classics: Armstrong, Goodman, and Claude Thornhill were all heard. When Duke's 1938 recording of "Blue Light" came on, she immediately spoke up, "That's my music!"
About the time Amanda was four, the critic and Ellington scholar Martin Williams visited the campus where I work. Seeking him out after his lecture, I told him about my daughter and her devotion to that recording. Williams was appalled that we would allow a child to listen to the same piece of music night after night for four years. With just a hint of humor, he likened it to child abuse.
But that recording of "Mood Indigo" was Amanda's comfort zone. She returned to it every night, as eagerly as a child who asks to hear the same story, over and over. And it was hers alone; her little sister never responded to it as she did.
Not long afterward -- by the time she was five -- Amanda decided that she was ready to listen to other music at bedtime, and she did. Over the years, she had many favorites, including my old Beatles records, Michael Jackson, and our hometown heroes, REM.
She started music lessons at six, and proved to be a good musician. She specialized in percussion in her high school band. For her junior year, she decided to switch to her school's jazz band, returning to her first instrument, the piano. Jazz piano was a challenge for her. She came to the conclusion that she hated playing solos, and she wasn't comfortable with improvisation. But I had the pleasure of hearing her play a few credible, if cautious, solos, one of them in "C Jam Blues." She decided not to return to the jazz band for her senior year, but after school was out, she changed her mind.
And she always kept her tape of "Masterpieces" close at hand. I don't know how many copies she had worn out over the years. She played it occasionally when she was tired, or stressed, or weary of the daily hurts in the life of a teenager. It sits on her night table now, as though just ejected from her stereo.
Amanda Dabney Holmes
October 9, 1979 - June 28, 1997
Amanda's memorial page
© copyright 1997 Robb Holmes
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